The Hollow Order
Rebuilding an International System That Works
"Si nolis bellum para pacem!"
THE November revolution of 1918 relieved Germany of her various monarchies. At that time nothing seemed more obvious than that the artificial states which had been created in accordance with dynastic considerations should be wiped out in favor of others which should really correspond to the several branches of the German race; and, indeed, the first drafts of the new constitution actually did provide for a re-division of Germany into states of this character.
Such a new alignment would naturally have included a Rhine state (stock of the Rhenish Franks), consisting of the Rhine province, the western part of Westphalia (the Ruhr), Hesse-Nassau, and the Rheinpfalz; a Swabian state (Swabian stock), consisting of Baden and Wurttemburg; a Bavarian state (stock of the Bajuvaren), consisting of Bavaria and Coburg; a Lower Saxon state (stock of the Lower Saxons), consisting of the eastern part of Westphalia, Oldenburg, Schleswig-Holstein, Hanover, and Braunschweig; and, finally, an Upper Saxon state (stock of the Upper Saxons), consisting of the Province of Saxony and Thuringia, the former kingdom of Saxony. Thus the minimum number of individual states would be set up, in order that the necessities of economic life might be more equitably adjusted, yet all the old German racial divisions would have been respected. East of the Elbe, in the German colonial territories, formerly inhabited by Slavs and still showing Slavic characteristics, a new division would have led to the erection of states about as follows: Mecklenburg and Pomerania, Brandenburg, Silesia, and Prussia.
Resistance on the part of the Prussian Junkers to any such scheme manifested itself forthwith, but in view of their complete demoralization it had no particular significance. Rather more unexpectedly, though really quite logically, the Social Democrats later emerged as bitter opponents of the proposed new division. Their leaders recognized that, being a minority, they could retain their leadership only by virtue of the most extreme centralization. They therefore adopted the Prussian system of the Hohenzollerns, with its centralized uniformity and its stock of disciplined officials, which in its time had grown up as a result of much the same considerations.
This resistance on the part of the Social Democrats has hitherto prevented a re-division of Germany, and it has also exercised a decisive influence upon the Rhineland Movement. The Rhenish Socialists had placed themselves under the leadership of the native Rhinelander, Jean Meerfeld, and by the end of 1918 the cry of "Los von Berlin!" found a hearty echo from the people as a whole. Immediately after the outbreak of the German Revolution, a preliminary committee drawn from Rhenish-Westphalian industrial circles had been formed with a view to forming a "West German Free-state within the German Reich." Industry felt itself threatened chiefly because of the Muscovite orientation adopted by the revolutionists in Berlin. It assumed that Berlin was going to sink into Bolshevism and was naturally unwilling to be dragged along into the whirlpool. This industrial committee wished to form a frankly industrial state, to which the entire Ruhr should belong, but which was to be bounded on the south by the line Trier-Coblenz and was to include only the northern part of the Rhineland. The economic union was speedily concluded under the leadership of Freiherr von Schorlemer-Lieser, former Minister and Oberpräsident, and presently won the adherence of the Centre, the largest political party of the Rhineland, which by itself controlled the majority of the electorate.
In order to confront the Allies with a fait accompli prior to their advance, which was expected to take place about the middle of December, 1918, it was decided to make the proclamation at once; and with this object in view a great assembly was summoned to meet in the Guerzenichsaal at Cologne. The proclamation--demanded, with a frantic waving of handkerchiefs, by more than 4,000 participants--would have been made at this meeting, had not petty jealousies at the last moment prevented. The far-seeing and energetic Oberpfarrer Kastert, to whom was due the great success of the plan to call such an assembly, found himself obliged to yield to the wishes of his comrades, who were unwilling that a proclamation should be made prior to the arrival of Karl Trimborn, party chairman, and a state secretary of the Wilhelmian era. Unhappily his arrival was delayed, thereby affording another individual, Konrad Adenauer, Chief Bürgermeister of Cologne, an opportunity to place himself at the head of the movement. This too-foresighted politician immediately began to veer about between left and right, not venturing to associate himself openly with the industrial committee which leaned strongly to the right. When, however, he recognized the enthusiastic unanimity of the people, he felt himself impelled to declare to the committee that a proclamation of the Rhenish state could be made only by a resolution agreed to by all political parties, and that he himself was the only individual capable of bringing about such an agreement. It was a Utopian idea that proved fatal to the movement, but unfortunately the committee did not presume to deny Adenauer's request. He was entrusted with the leadership and the task of preparing both the proclamation and the outline to be assumed by the new government.
At first Adenauer seemed to be meeting with success. All party leaders adhered to him, with the exception of dyed-in-the-wool Prussians; and the press with almost one voice called for a speedy proclamation--the sole exception being the chief organ of Prussianism, the Kölnische Zeitung, of which Bismarck, as every one knows, once remarked that it was worth more than an army corps to Prussian interests on the Rhine.
Adenauer proposed a formal launching of the new state in the Hansasaal of the Cologne Rathaus on February 1, 1919, and summoned for this purpose all the representatives who had been chosen for the Parliaments which were to establish constitutions for Prussia and the Reich. As no constitution of either Prussia or the Reich was at that time in existence, this proceeding would undoubtedly have been legal.
But Adenauer too left the southern part of the Rhineland quite out of consideration.
At this point I am compelled to refer to my own activities. Returning from the field toward the beginning of December, I formed, upon receipt of the news from Cologne, a Nassau-Hesse committee in Wiesbaden and Mainz for the purpose of establishing a large and inclusive Rhenish state, to which all culturally and economically unified portions of the Rhineland were intended to belong. I had several interviews with Adenauer for the purpose of having the adhesion of the South to the proclamation of February 1, 1919, taken under consideration. I was authorized to submit the full powers granted me by various cities and associations of the South and was to declare the adhesion of the South immediately after the proclamation. In spite of the shortness of the time available I had contrived to secure a number of such full powers.
Toward the end of January the situation in Cologne suddenly changed. The English authorities of the army of occupation (whom Adenauer had sounded) had made no objection to the proclamation of a northern state, but their attitude altered when the question of the South's adhesion was raised. At the time of our first conversation I had warned Adenauer that it might not be sufficient for him to sound the English alone, as quite possibly there might not be unanimity among the Allies in their attitude toward the question of the Rhineland. He was quite of my opinion and commissioned me, as the person principally concerned, to sound out the French in my own district.
My first interview with the French in Wiesbaden led to no very definite result. It was obvious that they were strongly under the influence of local Prussian circles and did not take our movement seriously. But the news of our putting out feelers among the French led the English, whom Adenauer had again approached, to the conclusion that it would be necessary to consult Berlin first--on the ground that as the Government of the Reich was the sole contracting party when the armistice with the Allies was signed, an understanding with it was indispensable! In spite of the fact that a Rhenish state which was to remain within the Reich needed no permission to establish itself from the Government in Berlin--which was, of course, still wholly revolutionary--Adenauer advised Berlin of the contemplated proclamation, with the result that at the end of January, 1919, that Government peremptorily forbade it, giving the following reasons: "England will energetically oppose any French designs for annexation or a protectorate. The English authorities have let it be known that they do not desire a dismemberment of Prussia. They intend to see to it that in the peace negotiations but one debtor shall be left responsible for reparations: Berlin."
Under these circumstances, Adenauer did not venture his proclamation on February 1, 1919, in spite of the fact that more than three-quarters of all the representatives and Bürgermeister, who had accepted the invitation and were bound on their words of honor to their voters to favor the establishment of a Rhineland state, desired the proclamation. After prolonged haggling, a compromise was decided on. The necessity of founding a Rhenish state was unanimously recognized. A committee was to be formed to draw up the proclamation, which was already decided on in principle; and this committee would meet under Adenauer's presidency "without delay."
But as Adenauer did not venture to call his committee together, and as nothing came of a final appeal by the previous committee asking him to do his duty, the committee of the South met for a conference with that of the North on March 7, 1919, in the assembly hall of the Kölnische Volkszeitung. It was decided to take energetic measures. I was at once empowered to consult the occupation authorities with regard to permission to issue the proclamation. A definite announcement was sent to the commanders of the American, English, and French forces, signed by Kommerzienrat Albert Ahn (Democratic Party), Consul Heinrich von Stein (Conservative Party), and the publisher, Franz X. Bachem (Centre Party), besides many other leading personages of the Rhineland. In this message it was requested that the Peace Conference should reach no decision relative to the Rhineland's fate without consulting its people, who were willing to meet their share of the reparations and to guarantee the security of Europe by creating a peaceful state on the Rhine, while remaining within the German Reich. On March 10, 1919, a great meeting of the committees took place in Cologne, which specifically endorsed this program and urged its immediate and definite execution.
While Dr. Froberger, the editor, was approaching the English occupation authorities I again got in touch with the French and sought also to communicate with the Americans; but in spite of every effort I was unable to see the American commander. In his book, "My Rhineland Journal," General Allen writes: "Through some mistake . . . Dr. Dorten was to come to see me tomorrow. Naturally, I informed the chief of staff . . . that I never, at any time, contemplated seeing him."
As for the French, it unfortunately was the middle of April before I was able to break through the cordon of subordinates drawn about General Mangin. But when I did reach him I found a man of large views and possessing an active mind, who achieved a full and objective understanding of the question of the Rhineland and who during his short stay won the sympathies of every class. On May 17, 1919, I had a conversation with General Mangin in which Representatives Kastert and Kuckoff, among others, took part. The program outlined above was searchingly examined and drawn up in the form of a draft. In this document expression was given to the hope that the voluntary assumption by the people of the Rhineland of guarantees for the rest of Germany would make possible a considerable mitigation in the terms of peace. Both these deputies had previously informed Herr Scheidemann, who was then Ministerpräsident, of this conversation. Now they also sent him the draft which had been drawn up. But instead of using this step as a means of clearing the way for negotiations in Paris, Scheidemann broke his promise of discretion and, through his associate Sollmann in Cologne, issued a falsified version, in which the sentence providing that the Rhine Republic was to remain within the German Reich was omitted. When the two deputies exposed this infamous falsification in Berlin they were treated in such a shameful way that they gave up their mandates and withdrew from further dealings.
I was now assigned by the committee the task of bringing off the proclamation prior to the close of the Peace Conference, in order to give the most emphatic expression to the fixed determination of the Rhenish people to decide their own future. But when, in an effort to secure permission to hold the ceremony at Aachen, I opened negotiations with the Belgian authorities there, I met with the most vigorous opposition.
What I had suspected in Cologne on February 1 was now only too clear. Belgium, France, and England had quite different interests along the Rhine and had no intention of entrusting these interests to an act of the Rhenish people's will. Instead, the division of the Rhineland into a northern and a southern part was of decisive interest both for England and for Germany. Their disinclination to support a Rhine Republic which should embrace the entire Rhineland was to be explained by their fear of an undue extension of French influence in the Rhenish-Westphalian industrial territory in the northern part. The coal and iron question, which today is so acute, due to the fact that a fusion of Rhenish coal with French ore would lead to a coalition of heavy industry on both sides able to dominate the European market, was even then playing a decisive rôle. Whoever has followed the Anglo-French antagonism in the Ruhr will understand the situation. Belgium had interests in the north which corresponded with England's.
After the failure of negotiations with the Belgian authorities it was decided to attempt the proclamation on May 27, 1919. The place chosen was the city of Coblenz, situated in the center of the Rhineland and provisionally regarded as the future capital.
As a personal appeal to the American commander seemed impossible, I requested General Mangin to advise him of our intentions and to request permission to call the Rhenish delegates together in Coblenz on this date. Not only, however, did General Allen refuse this permission, but he went so far as to declare that anyone coming to Coblenz for this purpose would be arrested. He had been led to believe that the Rhine Republic was to be proclaimed in Coblenz by French agents. Later I had an opportunity to set this error right, and in repeated interviews with the two officers detailed for "civil affairs," Colonel Hunt and Major Bagby, I was at great pains to make perfectly clear the true character of the Rhenish movement.
Although under Article 18 of the new Weimar Constitution the advocacy of a plebiscite on the question of founding such a state was perfectly proper, the movement met with continual difficulties in the American zone, which were to be traced to deliberately false information supplied to the Americans by the Prussian authorities. As an example of this, let me remark that on one occasion American officers sought to arrest me because the Prussian administration insisted that I was on my way with an automobile full of explosives to prepare the way for revolution! It was unhappily impossible to persuade the Americans that the Rhenish movement was not wholly "Made in France."
Convinced at length that the American, Belgian, and English opposition made active progress impossible, I saw that there was nothing else to do, if I wished to fulfil my duty, except to attempt a formal proclamation in the French zone. On June 1, 1919, the Rhine Republic was proclaimed as a neutral state (Friedensstaat) within the German Reich. In the proclamation the establishment of the new state was explicitly referred to a plebiscite. Simultaneously I notified the leaders of the Paris Peace Conference of what we had done, and also the Government of the Reich, at the same time requesting that a representative of the occupied area should be allowed to come to the Peace Conference, in order that the wishes of the Rhenish people might be heard with regard to the arrangements for their future.
Lloyd George, however, was able not only to block every effort of the Peace Conference to take up this question, but also to procure General Mangin's recall. It must remain for later events to demonstrate that a clarification of the Rhenish question--then practically unknown to the Allies--might, even thus early, have given the world an enduring peace.
At that time no one in Germany presumed to return a negative answer to the question whether the majority of the people of the Rhineland really supported the Rhenish movement. In any case the question itself is an idle one, for the advocates of the movement had themselves always declared that only the decision of a plebiscite could be authoritative. If the Prussians were so sure of their success, they need only have permitted a plebiscite in accord with Article 18 of the Reich's constitution. But even today they do not dare follow such a course. At any rate, after the proclamation of June 1, 1919, I received declarations of adherence from all sides. In the American zone, for example, the Centre Party officially declared their conviction of the necessity of a Rhine Republic. I possess several hundred officially attested documents, in which the chosen representatives of more than a million and a half voters so express themselves.
In view of the disagreement among the Allies, we confined ourselves from 1919 to 1923 mainly to a systematic propaganda and to work for the preservation of the Rhenish idea. Besides this, we kept in touch with the other federalistic movements in Germany and developed a common program. It is not difficult to understand why I cannot at present go into specific details. Prussian measures of opposition are so brutal that any indiscretions on my part might have disastrous consequences.
In view of the fact that the left wing of the Centre Party, with its socialistic leanings, was beginning to sheer off, the Kölnische Volkszeitung felt that it could no longer devote itself whole-heartedly to the Rhenish question. Its editorial direction suggested that we found a daily newspaper of our own. The Rheinischer Herold was therefore started in Cologne. Later the press was moved to Coblenz, where, upon orders from Berlin, it was destroyed by secret Prussian sympathizers.
The attempt upon the life of the Separatist leader, Joseph Smeets, like the murders of Erzberger and Rathenau, was contrived by Prussian agents. This former secretary of the Socialist Party had founded in Cologne a party which sought the complete separation of the Rhineland from Germany; from this party subsequently emerged the parties of Deckers and Matthes. The adherents of the federalistic movement, however, under the leadership of Oberpfarrer Kastert, held out resolutely for the "Rhenish popular union," as laid down by the proclamation of June 1, 1919. They represented an overwhelming majority of sympathizers. At the same time, however, the Separatist parties enhanced popular discontent over the unsatisfactory state of affairs in the Rhineland.
Although the population of the Rhineland have never been in favor of division from the Reich, one must nevertheless take into account what might be called the "opportunist-fatalistic" side of their character, their mellowness, their lack of stamina--all a consequence of their historic development and especially of the significance of the Rhine basin as a military highway from the time of Caesar, through Charlemagne to Napoleon. As the Centre, the strongest party in the Rhineland, openly recognizes the principle that it shall be ready to break off former relationships where realistic considerations demand it, there is no telling what turn the Rhenish question may eventually take, if it is not solved definitely, once for all. Prussia has in the past understood how to exploit the weaker side of the population, adroitly and unscrupulously.
When the Rhenish movement began to show signs of life and vigor once more, the Heimatdienst, an official organization which during the war had been entrusted with propaganda in favor of holding out to the bitter end, was set up in the Rhineland. It squandered incredible sums on behalf of Prussianism. The amount spent on various kinds of jobbery from 1920 to 1923 (of course at the expense of the Reich as a whole) must be estimated at a billion gold marks at least. In return for their "fidelity" to Prussia, officials and party leaders received heavy "contributions"; industrialists, farmers, vineyard owners, and merchants got lavish "loans"; while musical and athletic associations found that "patriotic aid" was available. It is not too much to assert that in 1923 half the population were getting monthly remittances from Prussia in some form or another. We were compelled to permit acceptance of such contributions by our own adherents, who would otherwise have come under the suspicion of being "Separatists," which implied relentless economic boycott and threats of persecution by the official and semi-official authorities. Against the Prussian billions we had scarcely a penny, and against their threats we were defenseless.
Let no one speak of "French support" for the genuine Rhenish movement. In most cases the French occupation authorities showed more leniency towards the Prussians than toward us Rhinelanders. Sympathy for France, which undoubtedly existed in the Rhineland in the beginning, and which General Mangin knew how to strengthen, faded more and more during the course of the year, as a result of Prussian activities, but also because of a lack of understanding by the French themselves.
The assertion that the Rhenish movement was artificially produced with French money is a downright lie. Our chronic want of money testifies to quite the opposite of our being "financed." No such offer was ever made me. On the contrary, when the movement began we were provided with means from Rhenish industrial circles; and later we had to get along with very little.
No one has regretted so much as I that the United States has hitherto received no news--or still worse, only false news--regarding our movement. Reasons for this are found in the lack of a uniform program among the Allies as to the treatment of the Rhine problem, and in the busy and endless Prussian press campaign, which was able completely to deceive the world about the true character of the Rhenish movement and to influence opinion in Allied and neutral countries in Prussia's favor. Prussianism was identified with Germany. Whoso opposed Prussia was an offender against Germany. To be federalist was to be falsely represented as separatist or pro-French. As a result, then, the Rhenish movement has been twisted into appearing an anti-German instrument for France.
Early in the year 1923 the policy of "passive resistance" to the occupation of the Ruhr, ordered from Berlin, brought a new turn to affairs. The "activists" of the movement more and more won the upper hand, and the people, weary of finding themselves perpetually between hammer and anvil, longed for some change in their unendurable condition. The Rheinische Volksvereinigung, therefore, determined to urge upon the Interallied Rhenish Commission the summoning of a Rhenish Advisory Council, which should in a general way further the Rhenish program. The utter depreciation of the paper mark, the results of which were especially felt in the Rhineland and which threatened the people with hunger, led us to desire the immediate creation of a Rhenish currency, and this program was urged at the great popular assembly in the summer of 1923. The success of this assembly was so great that Prussia decided on brutal measures. On orders from Berlin, the largest of these assemblies--that in Düsseldorf, which brought 20,000 people together in an open square--was broken up with bloodshed by Prussian "police" under the very eyes of the French occupation authorities. Hemming in the defenseless crowd, the soldiery opened fire with automatic pistols, killing six and wounding two hundred.
We should nevertheless have succeeded in carrying through our program peacefully had not undesirable elements--obviously at the instigation of agents provocateurs--begun to take violent measures. But I am unable at present to deal more explicitly with these and subsequent events without endangering the general political situation.
On October 21, 1923, the Separatist Deckers, unhindered by the authorities of the Belgian occupation, seized the public buildings of Aachen. The adherents of Smeets and Matthes followed him next day, and within a short time such important centers as Krefeld, München-Gladbach, and Duisburg, all within the Belgian zone, were in Separatist hands. But when the movement began to extend to the South, and we were compelled to strike in and take over the leadership in order to keep out the undesirables, the old game began anew. The Belgian authorities suddenly altered their position and compelled the Separatists to withdraw from the Belgian zone. The English supported the Prussian authorities in the arrest and prosecution of the Separatists in the English zone, in spite of the fact that there had been no activity there.
Deckers and Matthes thereupon withdrew to Coblenz from Aachen, and what they did was to so little purpose that I made up my mind to take a hand personally. Summoning my collaborators to Bad-Ems, I established there a "Temporary Administration" whose activities were primarily directed to preventing the evil consequences of this mismanagement. In a short time we had succeeded in restoring order and in raising the standing of the movement to such a degree that Oberbürgermeister Adenauer thought the time had again come for him to assert himself. Although somewhat doubtful of Adenauer's good faith, I declared that I and my friends were ready to hand over the leadership to him. His collaborator, the banker Louis Hagen, was ready to set up a Rhenish state bank and a Rhenish currency as a necessary basis for the new state, when Berlin declared her desire to satisfy the demands of the Allies and to "save" the Rhineland for herself. An understanding among the occupation authorities led to arrangements for the complete liquidation of such measures as had been taken by the Rhenish movement. My activity was over. My inclination to share in political affairs was ended. I withdrew.
Efforts by Separatists in the Palatinate to set up a state of their own came to nothing, after the assassination of their leader, Heinz, because of their inefficient organization. After the blood-bath at Pirmasens--the work of Prussian bands from outside the occupied territory--an English authority was entrusted with the final verdict on the movement's fate, although it was in the French occupied area. The episode thus came to an end.
The fact that my Fatherland has been an object of contention between Berlin, London and Paris, and that they can find no better solution than an embarrassed kind of international compromise, is not to my mind decisive. I shall never cease to hope that the final word as to their fate will be left to the Rhinelanders themselves, whose voice has never yet been heard. One can hardly expect a people who have reached such a level of cultural and economic development as theirs, a people who proudly name a Goethe and a Beethoven as their own, and whose industry ranks among the first in the world, to allow their future to be decided by a group of European and extra-European states or to wax enthusiastic over an international police force on the Macedonian-Persian model! It is certainly a poor way of guaranteeing European stability.
The birth of world peace can take place only on the Rhine and only as guaranteed by the Rhinelanders. The disturber of peace upon the Rhine is Prussia. War is her national industry, and it is she who forces the German people, who are naturally peace-loving, ever anew to "appeal to the sword." We Rhinelanders are Germans, but we are not Prussians. Take Prussia off the Rhine and you will see that a Germany freed from Prussian leadership is quite capable of coming to a lasting understanding with France.
In domestic politics the creation of a true league of German states, and in foreign politics the creation of an agreement with France--two ways to the ultimate goal of a United States of Europe--this is the program of the real Rhenish movement.